She was so quiet, so dignified. People do not think of the quiet consort of Sri Ramakrishna as a mad, God-intoxicated saint. Outwardly Sri Sarada Devi, or Holy Mother as she is called by her devotees, rarely showed any signs of the mad, passionate love Sri Ramakrishna and other Kali saints exhibited in their lives. On the contrary, Holy Mother liked to hide herself and her sweet divinity.
When anybody spoke of her, in her presence, as a divine being, she would at once stop such flattering words and say with the utmost sincerity that she was what she was only because the Master (Sri Ramakrishna) had given her shelter at his feet. The veil with which she always hid her face in public seemed to be symbolic of this more profound veil of modesty with which she loved to hide her own towering greatness. It was for this reason that Sri Ramakrishna, in fun, likened her to a cat that loved to hide its real color with ashes. (Sw. Tapasyananda, Sri Sarada Devi, The Holy Mother, p. 160.)
The Holy Mother live her early life simply and joyously in the small village of Jayrambati. Being a child bride, she quietly prepared herself for the time when she was going to leave her parents’ house and move in with her husband. When nasty gossip about Sri Ramakrishna’s madness reached remote Jayrambati, the Holy Mother often overheard women at the well discussing her husband’s state of mind. It hurt her deeply. She wanted to go to Sri Ramakrishna and see for herself what was the matter.
An opportunity to go to Dakshineshwar presented itself when a few villagers planned a trip to Calcutta to take a bath in the Ganges on a particularly auspicious day. Sri Sarada’s father agreed to accompany the girl. It was a long journey along a dusty road, across rice fields and open meadows. The Holy Mother, unaccustomed to walking such a distance, fell ill with high fever after a couple of days and had to take shelter in a rest house. There seemed to be no way that she could continue her journey.
I was lying unconscious, owing to fever, without any sense of decorum, even. Just then I saw a woman, pitch dark in complexion, sitting by my side. Though she was dark, I have never seen another so beautiful as she. She stroked my aching head with her soft cool hands, and I felt the heat in my body subsiding. “Where are you from?” I asked her. And she replied, “From Dakshineswar.” At this I was speechless with wonder, and exclaimed, “From Dakshineswar! I too am going to Dakshineswar to see my husband. But this fever has unfortunately detained me on the way.” To this she replied, “Don’t worry. You will soon be alright, and see your husband at Dakshineswar. It is for your sake that I have kept him there.” I said to her, “Indeed! Is it so? But who are you to me?” “I am your sister,” she replied. I was much astonished to hear this. After this conversation I fell asleep. (Ibid., pp. 22-23)
The Holy Mother had visions of Kali throughout her life, and it is safe to infer that she was aware of her own divinity at all times. Although she lived like any other Indian woman-taking care of cooking, cleaning, and family affairs-yet whoever came in contact with her felt something special. People felt her extraordinarily sweet love-she gave more than their own mother at home could give them. It was a subtle divinity people felt, and it was truly rare that Sri Sarada Devi was provoked enough to reveal her true nature. Once she showed herself as Kali to a robber and his wife.
It so happened that the Holy Mother traveled one day from Jayrambati to Calcutta on foot. A few village women accompanied her. The small party halted in Arambagh, about eight miles from Kamarpukur, because before them lay the uninhabited, notorious fields of Telo-bhelo. People hesitated to cross these fields alone even during the day for they were infested with robbers. Deep in the heart of Telo-bhelo there is to this day the terrible image of the Goddess Kali, which the dacoits used to invoke before roaming the fields in search of people to rob. This particular image of Kali is appropriately called “Robber’s Kali.”
It was still early in the day, and Holy Mother’s party decided that there was plenty of time, even for a moderate walker, to pass the dangerous area nad reach Tarakeshwar before dark. Holy Mother’s feet already hurt and were tired, but by nature unobtrusive, she didn’t want to delay the others on her account. Soon she lagged behind her companions who had to halt and wait for her to catch up. It was getting late, and rather than exposing the whole group to danger, Holy Mother asked them not to worry about her and keep going. She did not have to press them much. They gladly quickened their steps and soon were out of sight. The Holy Mother slowly walked on alone.
The sun set. Night turned the solitary fields dark, and bushes and trees loomed as ominous black shadows. Frightened, the Holy Mother tried to walk faster when all of a sudden she saw a tall figure emerge from behind a bush. It was a fierce looking man who carried a lengthy staff. His thick, long hair hung down unkempt, and he wore heavy silver bangles around his wrists. She instinctively knew he was a robber. Obviously enjoying her terror, the robber shouted with a throaty, harsh voice, “Hello! Who is this standing here at this time?”
He was about to grab the Holy Mother, when suddenly he stopped as if stunned by a gun. Much later on he told people that at this very moment he saw the full manifestation of Kali standing in front of him. The Holy Mother had turned into Kali and stunned the robber. He was still in a daze when the Holy Mother began talking to him:
Father, my companions have left me behind and I have lost my way. Will you kindly take me to them? Your son-in-law lives in the Kali temple of Rani Rasmani at Dakshineswar. I am on my way to him. If you take me to that place, he will treat you cordially (Gambhirananda, 70).
The robber was too startled to do or say anything. His wife came out of the shadows to help him but before she could do anything, Holy Mother had taken hold of her hand.
Full of confidence and affection she said. “Mother, I am your daughter Sarada; I was in a terrible plight having been left behind by my companions. Fortunately you and father appeared; otherwise I can’t say what I would have done.” This simple behavior, extreme confidence, and sweet disposition conquered the hearts of the robber couple who belonged to the lowly Bagdi caste. As a result they forgot the gulf of social difference that separated them from a Brahmin woman and consoling her as though she was truly a daughter of theirs, they did not allow her to proceed further because she was tired (71).
The next morning, the Bagdi couple took the Holy Mother safely to Tarakeshwar and delivered her to her to her worried companions. What started out as a potential disaster, turned into an intimate experience, one that the Bagdi couple was not to forget for the rest of their lives. Under the influence of Holy Mother’s love, the robber gave up his evil ways and took on a regular job. Love made all the difference. They looked upon the Holy Mother as their sweet daughter Sarada and even came to visit her in Dakshineswar.
The Holy Mother served Sri Ramakrishna and looked upon him as a personification of Ma Kali. As Sri Ramakrishna entered maha-samadhi (final liberation), Holy Mother cried out, “O Mother Kali, why have you left me?”
The Master seemed to have returned from some far-off land and while still in that mood of aloofness he said, “See, the people of Calcutta appear to be crawling about like worms in the dark. Do look after them.” The Mother pleaded, “I am a woman. How can that be?” The Master pointed towards his body and continued in the same strain, “What, after all this one has done? You’ll have to do much more (121, 122).”
Sri Sarada Devi’s ministry continued thirty-four years after the passing of Sri Ramakrishna.
Some teachings of Holy Mother
“After non-dual knowledge dawns, God and all else vanish into nothing. Mother-in the end my Mother pervades the whole universe. Everything becomes one. This is the simple truth.”
“In the course of time one does not even feel the existence of God. After attaining true wisdom one sees that gods and deities are all maya. Everything comes into existence in time and disappears in time. Kali, the Mother of the Universe, is the Mother of all. It is She alone that has begotten both good and evil. Everything has come out of Her womb.”
“The Kundalini will awake. Repetition of His name will lead to the goal. Even if your mind does not become concentrated, you can repeat the holy name thousands of times.”
“However much japa (repetition of mantra) you do, however much of work you perform, it is all for nothing. If Mayamaya (the Divine Mother) does not open the way, is anything possible for one? Oh bound soul! Surrender, surrender! Then alone will She take compassion on you and leave your path open.”
“I tell you one thing-if you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather learn to see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is stranger, my child; this whole world is your own.”
(Excerpted from Kali the Black Goddess of Dakshineswar by Elizabeth U. Harding.)